Shortlisted for the Prix Découverte Louis Roederer, the young photographer Laure Tiberghien participates for the first time in the Rencontres d’Arles. In the privacy of her lab, the artist plays with light, forms, and colors to reveal the infinite potential of photography, which she defines in her own way. Just as her exhibition is about to open, we have caught up with her and managed to pry some trade secrets…
How did you get into photography?
I started out very early, as a matter of fact. At about twelve or thirteen, I got very interested in black-and-white documentary photography, and Helen Levitt was my favorite photographer. I began doing film photography, and then decided to attend the [École des] Beaux-Arts in Paris. But after a few years, this rather classical photography wasn’t enough, and I launched into completely different experimentation. I tried printing on different materials, utilize distressed paper, and experimented with historical techniques. My whole education at the Beaux-Arts was very experimental. I finally concluded that what I liked most about photography was not shooting, but what happens after, in the lab. It was there that I realized what photography could do.
How would you describe your work?
I insist on the fact that I do photography, but it is cameraless photography; and thus my work, to put it simply, does not address representation. Or rather, it is a way of representing the invisible, and that’s why my images are so abstract, since there is no shot, no negatives. I construct my forms from scratch, in my lab, in contrast to what one is used to seeing in photography. So what I’m producing is abstract, and often color, photography.
I really love the idea of being able to develop and reveal and image that doesn’t exist
Could you tell us more about your working process?
There are two tools I mainly rely on: light and photosensitive paper. Once I have these two ingredients, there are a lot of things I can do. I often use color filters, those you find in a film studio or in concert spotlights. Using large rollers with colored gelatin emulsion, I create assemblages of colors and forms which I apply to a glass plate. This plate then gets placed between the lamp of the enlarger and the photosensitive paper. This process is the core of my work. But I use other things besides gelatin emulsions. I’ve also created a piece using a flashlight, which was featured in my last exhibition at the Lumières des Roses gallery. I often say that the slightest light source can produce surprising things on photosensitive paper.
On that note, how far do you manage to control the results?
There is always an element of chance, but it’s controlled chance. We mustn’t forget that in a lab one has to think in terms of positive and negative. So I must imagine my colors as negatives, and then find respective complementary colors in order to achieve the desired result. I can also spend hours on end testing until I find the right color, and once I do, I move on to the large format. On the other hand, the result cannot be fully determined in advance; and this is precisely what interests me, as every piece I’ve done is unique, even while photography is supposed to be reproducible. Even if I try doing the same piece twice, in reality I end up with a variation on a theme.
Has this process inspired reflection on light, matter, the invisible, or are you mainly interested in experimentation?
No, and actually I don’t really like the word “experimentation” because it sounds like “groping in the dark.” What interests me is the idea of representing the invisible. Representation and the invisible are opposites, and it may seem strange to think along these lines. But I really love the idea of being able to develop and reveal and image that doesn’t exist, or which exists but we cannot perceive it with the naked eye. It’s as if I were trying to capture movements, atmosphere, things related to non-representation. I keep looking for new ways of exploring photography as a tool.
Which works have you decided to show in Arles?
I’m presenting a series I entitled Suite (Continuation). The title seems self-explanatory, because it’s at once a follow-up to the exhibition at the Lumière des Roses Gallery and a continuation of the work I’ve been doing for several years. It represents a sort of continuity, even while it is very different, because there are more cibachrome and chromogenic prints; there will also be a display of more research-based works.
In an interview to The New York Times, you said that we live in an age when “there are so many images we stopped seeing them, and we no longer know whether they are good or bad.” What are your thoughts about photography today?
I got to the point where I am now by a sort of reaction to the image, because I couldn’t see myself in what photography is today. I think that we all feel a bit of an image overload. We all make images and they are everywhere. There came a moment when I felt a sort of strong sense of rejection and when I was at the Beaux-Arts, I thought in fact of abandoning photography. In the end, I wanted to return to it in an entirely new way and try to understand from a different angle what it was that interested me in the image.
Interview by Coline Olsina
Laure Tiberghien, Suite
Ground Control, July 1 - September 22, 10am–7:30pm, Arles